Monday, July 11, 2016

International Seminar on Science and Spirituality: Bridges of Understanding

International Seminar on Science and Spirituality: Bridges of Understanding
Dates: 21-Nov-2016 to 23-Nov-2016
at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, India

Concept Note
"Self-transcendence, the mark of all spiritual experience, is present in the devoted passion for the pursuit of science, art, and morality." (Dr. S. Radhakrishnan)
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; it is the source of all true art and science." (Albert Einstein)
Man's search for an understanding of reality has taken several routes that also have their respective methods: science and spirituality being amongst the most significant of these in the present day context. Science, and its application, technology, have brought us tools and comforts that pervade our life today. They also shape our relationship with the world. At the same time, both in the East and in the West, there is an ever growing need of humanity to find an inner meaning. There is a continuous search for refuge in spiritual traditions and practices across the world. Both, science and spirituality, endeavour to unravel the mysteries of the universe and the inner workings of matter and spirit. Common to both approaches is a quest for truth, and a fluidity which does not allow the seeker to stop at any given point. Science constantly moves towards new discoveries, and spirituality seeks ever deeper dimensions of consciousness. The scientific method, relying on empirical evidence, and spiritual practice, aiming at inner experience both share a sense of wonder at the greatness of the universe and depth of the human spirit. Just as moments of intuitive inspiration have led to some of the greatest scientific discoveries, the spiritual traditions originate from and testify to intuitive, enlightening insights. Ideally, both disciplines require a free mind - unbiased and unprejudiced (in phenomenology: epoché) - in order to approach their goal. The words of Albert Einstein on the limitations of the human condition, and the way to overcome them, are not only pertinent for both scientific and spiritual perspectives, but also seem to indicate a way towards a more inclusive and thus compassionate existence: "A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Over the last century, we have seen great minds from both fields of understanding reaching out to engage with, and even embrace, each other. There is much reason to hope that "these two are in our own days brought closely into touch with each other, so that they may aid and strengthen each other, may be found as servants in a common cause, and not as opposing and incongruous ideas."[1] Quantum mechanics has profoundly challenged our understanding of reality and our long held notions about the world we live in. Niels Bohr's statement "Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real" seems to echo the Hindu notion of Māyā. And Erwin Schrödinger's words "Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe" resonate well with the spiritual experience of oneness which saints and sages of East and West have so rapturously sung about since ages.
On the other side, Sri Aurobindo acknowledges how science may aid in improving our understanding of spiritual practices themselves: "Yogic methods have something of the same relation to the customary psychological workings of man as has the scientific handling of the force of electricity or of steam to their normal operations in Nature. And they, too, like the operations of Science, are formed upon a knowledge developed and confirmed by regular experiment, practical analysis and constant result".[2]
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been leading a dialogue with scientists over the last decades, most fruitfully with neuroscience. We have to connect with this important and epoch-making dialogue. Addressing the Society of Neuroscience (Washington, DC), Dalai Lama said: "I believe that the collaboration between neuroscience and the Buddhist contemplative tradition may shed fresh light on the vitally important question of the interface of ethics and neuroscience… Both parties in the dialogue can find the common ground of empirical observable facts of the human mind, while not falling into the temptation of reducing the framework of one discipline into that of the other…"[3]
The seminar has to address a number of burning issues humanity is facing today. By coming together in a dialogue, can these two orientations complement each other? Can such a dialogue enable them to contribute to solving problems of ethics, ecology etc.? This requires a philosophical enquiry into their respective epistemologies or methodologies. The seminar proposes to include the following subjects, initially in separate sections, and thereafter in a dialogue. As the topic is vast, it is proposed to include representatives from the following disciplines of science:
Physics, including Astrophysics, Quantum Physics
Biology and Medicine: different disciplines, mainly Neuroscience
Cognitive Science

Spirituality can be presented either as derived from, or contained in, various religious traditions or independent of any religious belonging (including modern spiritual movements not bound by a particular tradition, such as: Emerson, Tagore, Gandhi, J. Krishnamurty et al.).
Both, scientists and scholars of spirituality would be expected to represent their discipline, and also to keep an open mind towards the other viewpoints. For instance, a neuroscientist should address the question of the brain also in relation to consciousness, and a spiritual scholar should present his/her discipline and philosophy with an understanding of its psychological and/or scientific underpinnings, so that it leads to a genuine and open dialogue between scientific and spiritual disciplines.
The aim of the seminar is to attempt an overcoming of opposites and dichotomies. We can live neither without science nor without spirituality, and it is a bridging of the gap between the two that will contribute to greater harmony in society. We need most importantly to remember the vision of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan: "Progress in the realms of Science, Art, and Morality shows that self and not-self are only relatively opposed. It is the business of man to break down the opposition, and make both express the one spirit. This view restores the balance between nature and spirit, and makes life worth living."[4]
The seminar should start with the philosophical prepositions of both, science in its different disciplines, and spirituality as expressed in different traditions, and end with the practical implications of the insights gained in the fields of ecology, health and education. Thus the following break-up in sessions is proposed (a more detailed break-up will be given with the program):
    Philosophy as underlying respectively, science and spirituality.
    Consciousness: in neuroscience and in spirituality.
    Cosmology: in physics and in a holistic spiritual world view.
    Applied Science and Spirituality to: Ecology, Ethics, Health and Education.
A limited number of participants will be invited for the seminar. Those interested in participating should send an abstract (500-700 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to the following Email ID's:,
[1] Annie Besant, Modern Science and Higher Self (Adyar, 1915).
[2] Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 7. Pondicherry, 1999.
[3] Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, Science at the Crossroads (Talk given in 2005).
[4] Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, p.27 (London, 1919).

Call for Papers
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Seminar. Those interested in participating should send an abstract (500-700 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to:
Professor Bettina Sharada Baumer, National Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla- 171005. Mobile No: 09956297460, Email:
Dr. Devender Sharma, Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla- 171005. Tel: 0177-2831385; +91-8988376808 (Mobile) Email :
The last date for submission of abstract (500-700 words) is 12th June, 2016.  The Institute intends to send Invitation letters to selected participants by 2nd July, 2016. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Hence, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers (English or Hindi), hitherto unpublished and original, with citations in place, along with a reference section, to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla – 171005 by 20 August, 2016. Style sheet for the submission of papers may be downloaded from the IIAS website
IIAS, Shimla, will be glad to extend its hospitality during the seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, rail or air travel expenses from the place of current residence in India, or the port of arrival in India, and back.

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